GI Bill reform expands education options

Veterans and service members eligible for the new GI Bill already have an outstanding education benefit. But it soon could become even more valuable and easier to use.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday released details of the GI Bill reform package it approved two weeks ago. It includes almost every change sought by veterans’ service organizations, institutes of higher learning, trade unions, vocational schools and VA administrators.

The only two key elements missing are an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office on what these reforms will cost, and a plan to pay for them as worries over deficit spending mounts in Washington, D.C.

The bill would expand education options beyond the pursuit of a college degree and into almost any type of training a veteran might want.

At the same time, S 3447 would enhance and simplify the payment formula, ease confusion for students and pare administrative headaches for schools. The new GI Bill also would be opened to at least 80,000 National Guard members mobilized since 9/11 who previously were denied coverage. And its monthly living allowance would be used in a special way to support enrollment in apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs.

These are just some of the highlights.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, committee chairman, is leading the reform effort and drawing bipartisan support. The budget office cost estimate should be known before Congress returns in September when attention will turn to finding ways to pay for it.

Rep. Walter Minnick, D-Idaho, has introduced a near identical bill in the House, HR 5933. His committee plans its own hearing Sept. 16.

At the Senate’s GI Bill reform hearing in July, senior officials with the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense expressed support for most changes in Akaka’s bill. But at the urging of Veterans Affairs officials most provisions wouldn’t take effect until Aug. 1, 2011, to allow for implementation.

Sen. Richard Burr, N.C., ranking Republican on the committee, made clear in July he was miffed at Akaka for introducing S 3447 alone, in May, after calling in April for bipartisan cooperation.

The bill, Burr said, “would help create a program that will be fair and generous, no matter where a veteran lives or chooses to go to school.” By covering vocational training, it “would allow more veterans and their families to pursue educational programs that best meet their needs.”

Here are more details:

  • The revised GI bill would fully cover tuition and fees for all in-state degree programs including doctorates or graduate degrees. Removed would be a cap tied to the most costly in-state under graduate degree program.
  • Post-9/11 students on active duty, or their enrolled spouses, would qualify for the $1,000 annual book allowance.

    Any Guard member called to active duty since 9/11 by the president or secretary of defense under Title 32, used often for domestic emergencies or homeland security missions, or to serve fulltime under the Active Guard and Reserve program, would be eligible for the post-9/11 GI Bill.

  • Veterans enrolled in a qualified on-the-job or apprenticeship training would be paid 100 percent of the applicable living allowance for the first six months, 80 percent for the second six months, 60 percent for the third, 40 percent for the fourth, and 20 percent for any subsequent periods of training. This would be in addition to their GI Bill benefit, to be set for vocational training at the lesser of $20,000 a year or actual tuition and fees.
  • To comment, send e-mail to or write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111.

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